Bluesology: Forrest McDonald, Tas Cru, Rott’n Dan & Lightnin’ Willy, Tom The Suit Forst, The Phantom Blues Band and some worthy compilations

From Boston guitarist Forrest McDonald to a mighty compilation by Koko Mojo Records, columnist Mike Greenblatt screams joyously "damn right, I got the blues" to new music releases.
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Boston guitarist/singer/songwriter/producer Forrest McDonald may be 70 but his stinging electric guitar solos are as thunderous as when he started out 53 years ago. You’ve been listening to him for decades and just don’t know it. (That’s him on Bob Seger’s 1979 “Old Time Rock’n’Roll” hit single.) He’s also gone toe-to-toe on stages with Johnny Winter, Duane Allman, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Blues In A Bucket (World Talent Records) by The Forrest McDonald Band Featuring Andrew Black is his 15 CD. He wrote 11 very personal songs but splits the singing with Black and guest Becky Wright. The full horn section is something new for him and adds immeasurably. The stories themselves are from the heart, like “Blue Morning Sun” and “Go To The Light,” written in response to the recent death of his brother from cancer. But it’s not all on the morose end of the blues spectrum. “Boogie Me ‘Til I Drop” opens things with a distinct New Orleans party feel, and “Powerhouse” rocks, but then it’s back to “Misery And Blues.” The title track is uplifting, though, as you can, indeed, put all your “Blues In A Bucket” and throw the bucket away.

Drive On

On his ninth album, Drive On (Subcat Records), Tas Cru satisfyingly delivers another all-original 10-track blues masterpiece. The cat can do no wrong, be it swing, shuffle, ballad or rocker. The upstate New Yorker’s vocals, guitar, harmonica and lyrics are now augmented for the first time by a honking sax man out of Houston, Anthony Terry. Add Anthony Geraci on that liquid Hammond B-3 sound spilling all over the mix plus the slide guitar work of last year’s Albert King Award Winner Gabe Stillman and tracks like the John Lee Hooker-inspired one-chord boogie of “Kinda Mess” and the swamp-rock of “Memphis Blue” come thrillingly to life.

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Acoustic pre-war blues is the order of the day on the self-titled debut of Canadian singer/songwriter duo Rott’n Dan & Lightnin’ Willy who take, for their main inspiration, the instrumentation and ambiance of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, some 66 years after that standard was set. Dan blows some wicked harp and Willy can fingerpick like Mississippi John Hurt whose “I’m Satisfied” starts things off. Bob Dylan once wrote that “nobody sings the blues like Blind Willie McTell” so McTell’s 1928 “Delia” gets a new and fresh interpretation. So does Janis Joplin’s 1970 “Mercedes Benz” although how that fits into the format I’ll never know.

World Of Broken Hearts

Enter the World Of Broken Hearts (Retro Records) by Tom The Suit Forst, a five-song EP of startlingly dramatic proportions, especially when you consider that Tom didn’t get started until he was 57 years old. Before that, he was a television advertising executive who threw his successful corporate persona into the garbage, opting for what he really loved: the life of an itinerant musician who now tours up to 200 shows a year (he’s big in China). He’s got a hell of a crew. The “Everything Is Fallen” duet with Christine Ohlman is a doozy. Johnny Winter’s main man Paul Nelson still stings that guitar like his old boss. Add some blues-harp, a second guitar and drums and you’ve got a hard-fought battle of reinvention. Consider this a crash course in the blues…and following your dream.

Phantom Blues Band is Still Cookin

The Phantom Blues Band is Still Cookin’ (VizzTone Label Group). That’s a good thing because the accumulative credits of these world-class A-List studio and road hotshots would fill a thick book. They’ve served as Taj Mahal’s tour-band and have spiced up efforts by no less than Bonnie Raitt, Rolling Stones, BB King, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and even Jimi Hendrix. Starting with Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Fight It,” they move and groove through 12 barnburners of varying proportions but one thing’s for certain: the singing and playing is so good, you’ll find yourself coming back again and again. Drummer Tony Braunagel, keyboardist Mike Finnigan, bassist Larry Fulcher, guitarist Johnny Lee Schell, saxophonist Joe Sublett and trumpeter Les Lovitt lead this 10-man wrecking crew through this 12-track party with verve, soul, flash and blinding virtuosity. I got 56 more records I have to hear but I just gotta gotta gotta play this one again. As Taj says, “the blues makes my body feel good!”

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Time to swing and sway and shake like jello on a plate with the various female singers of Rock’n’Roll Kittens Volume #3: Shakin’ The Blues (Atomicat records). The 25 tracks have some unbelievably great rarities—like the closing “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Lizzie Miles—but also a few clinkers like the so-bad-it’s-good Doris Day title track. Mostly, though, these songs rock with a real blues feeling. It opens strong. I’ve always assumed Brenda Lee was known as “Little Miss Dynamite” because of her 4’11 height but it’s probably because of the terrific “Dynamite.” Other highlights include “I Never Had The Blues” by Georgia Gibbs, Betty Hutton’s “Hot Dog: That Made Him Mad,” the classic “This Train” by Roberta Sherwood, “I’ll Be The Bee” by Ruth & Al, “Good Rockin’ Daddy” by Etta James, “Baby, You’re The One” by Nita, Rita & Ruby and, especially, “I’m Gone” by the great rockabilly singer Ella Mae Morse (who has to be ripe for own retrospective).

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Koko Mojo Records has done it again! There’s a reason a big smile erupts on my face when I get one of their packages from Europe: the latest Southern Bred Texas R’n’B Rockers is yet another pre-1963 retrospective of rare American blues and R’n’B. These 28 tracks—minus a few clinkers which is to be expected—go deeeeeep, and range far and wide from voices long-forgotten and other voices who shall never die. Highlights amongst the former include the awesome Little Willie Littlefield’s “Rockin’ Chair Mama,” “Call Me Juke Boy” by Juke Boy Bonner (who billed himself as “The One-Man Trio”), “The Walkin’ Blues (Walk Right In Walk Right Out)” by the Jesse Powell Orchestra with Fluffy Hunter and “Angel Child” by Peppermint Harris. Highlights amongst the latter include tracks you probably have not heard by Little Esther, Joe Tex, Ivory Joe Hunter, King Curtis, Freddy King, Lightnin’ Hopkins and T-Bone Walker And His Guitar (yeah, that’s how he billed himself). My favorite, though, has to be the closing “Birmingham Bounce” by none other than Amos Milburn [1927-1980] and his Aladdin Chickenshackers